You would never know it from the title, but The Resurrection of Tony Gitone is, on several levels, a love story.
Shot over six days (on what appears to have been a microscopic budget, even by Canadian standards), the film unites a disparate ensemble of 40- and 50-something male friends (landlord, developer, restaurateur, reformed Mafiosi, chef, writer, film director) in a single late-night celebration.
The venue is their old haunt, Toronto’s Il Gatto Nero, in the heart of Little Italy. The gathering is in honour of one of their own, actor Nino (Fabrizio Filippo), who has returned home from Hollywood to star in a major motion picture, opposite big-name actress Vanessa Luna (Paula Rivera).
That’s the first romance, the classic, set-fuelled infatuation that typically ends on the last day of principal photography. This one may, too.
Then there’s the deeper storia d’amore, the tale of old friends who clearly love each other, at least in a fraternal way, despite the issues that constantly divide them and set off their hair-trigger tempers.
And finally, the film constitutes a private billet-doux, director Ciccoritti’s salute to his own generation, children of the great wave of Italians who fled the crushing post-war poverty of Calabria and emigrated to Canada in the 1950s and 60s. Now middle-aged, they find themselves fully Canadianized, whatever that may mean, but deeply attached to their childhood memories and the vanishing totems of their own cultural heritage.
Il Gatto Nero’s modest shrine to Tony Gitone, an immigrant who may have died during construction of the Toronto subway – his framed black-and-white photograph, Italian flags, a soccer ball, a lit candle – becomes a metaphor for the lost world.
This larger, bittersweet meta-story hovers over the various plot lines, not always credibly. We have Bruno (Tony Nappo), ostensibly a former Mafia hit man turned chef who would not frighten a kitchen mouse. We have Leo (John Cassini), a cuckolded husband ready to murder the man who has besmirched his honour – with an unloaded gun. We have the handsome leading man (Filippo), at least a decade too young for the part.
Although Ciccoritti and two others are credited with the screenplay, most of the dialogue has the feel of wholesale improvisation, the actors left to their own devices to create meaningful moments, all the while drinking copious amounts of wine and consuming Italian comfort food.
At times, in the expert hands of Tony Nardi (as the restaurant’s owner, Mario) and Nick Mancuso (as aging film director, Vince, the film’s most commanding presence), the results are genuine and magical. With other characters, not so much. We get a better sense of the collective identity than we do of the individual.
What emerges is a film rich in brio (enlivened by Maurizio Abeni’s delightful score), but sadly soft at its narrative core. There are too many story lines – most are painfully thin – and the editing jumps between them, at times jarringly. As dawn approaches, the character conflicts are resolved, a little too tidily. Still, there’s a certain spell cast here, an incantesimo, and it’s hard not to warm to the party that Ciccoritti throws for his beloved paesani.